Blurb? What's that???

1.a brief advertisement or announcement, esp. a laudatory one: She wrote a good blurb for her friend's novel. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2009.

Blurb. It's a funny little word, but it has the power to spark the interest of an editor or a reader. From a one or two sentence description of the story to the back cover of the book, a blurb gives a quick overview to a reader. That reader may be an editor looking over a query letter or a customer standing in a store, perusing the shelves for a book to buy.

A blurb is a hook. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it doesn’t tell the whole plot, simply the setup of the story. Pull out an old TV Guide for ideas, because those short descriptions of shows are blurbs. Surprised? Don’t be. Go for high concept, much like those TV show descriptions. Focus on the GMC (Goal, Motivation & Conflict) of one or both characters, add some strong nouns and descriptive verbs, and you have a blurb that can be used in a query letter or even in a face to face pitch to an editor.

It may take some time to get the hang of writing blurbs. It isn't always easy at first. But once you become more comfortable writing them, blurbs can be your best marketing tool.

For more information on blurbs aka high concept pitches aka hot premise and how to write ones that will make an editor sit up and take notice, check out Alicia Rasley’s article, "The Promise of the Hot Premise".

THE CALL--Uncross your fingers and answer the phone

Okay, this may seem like a goofy blog from someone who has not yet gotten THE CALL. I did get a sort of mini-call from an agent wanting to represent me. But the actual Call-Call. Not so much. Not yet anyway.

THE CALL is when your caller ID registers a New York phone number and you cross your fingers that its not your Uncle Joey and Aunt Sophia(that you owe money to) who live on the upper east side. There’s a good chance that the Queen Mother of Dreams Come True is on the other end of the line. Yes I know there are other cities that publish books but in order to keep this blog under control we’ll just stick with The Big Apple. Hopefully, your phone conversation will go something like this.

Savvy Writer(that you are): Hello.
Dream Editor: Hello. This is your Dream Editor with Perfect Publishing and we loved your manuscript so much that we are willing to offer you a contract.
SW: OMG! (you’ll want to hang on tightly to the phone from this point on so you don’t drop it and miss a single thing he/she says—passing out is not an option!)
DE: We’ll need some revisions, of course.
SW: Good (shoot for one word replies because let’s face it, you really, really want to scream at the top of your lungs)
DE: We’ll need them back to us by XX date (usually 4-6 weeks)
SW: Okay (you agree and do the happy dance while white-knuckling the phone)
DE: We’ll send you a detailed letter along with a contract in the next few days. If you have any questions call me and we’ll discuss them. Your advance will be $$ and your royalties are XX %.
SW: Wonderful (tears of joy are welling by this point)
DE: Do you have any questions for me now?
SW: No. Thank you DE very much. (telling them you love them at this stage of your relationship would be a bit premature—so force yourself to refrain)
DE: Then welcome to the Perfect Publishing family. We look forward to working with you. Good-bye.

Once THE CALL ends you are free to scream and dance to your hearts content, or the neighbors call the police, whichever comes first. Then write down everything about the conversation you remember. After that, rejoice, sing and dance some more. Call your mother, your spouse, your children, your critique partners and anyone else who has supported you in your long and often harrowing journey to publishing. With any luck, we’ll all experience THE CALL someday soon. Just remember to uncross your fingers and answer the phone because with a lot of hard work and even more persistence, dreams really can come true.


Are You "Hooked" Yet?

When our blog subject for May was announced my first newbie thought was again, SAY WHAT? Writer’s jargon, great, now I have to learn more new words?! Aacckk! I’m still reeling from genre and what’s really scary is that we were supposed to pick one for ourselves. I’m thinking; how do you come up with something for yourself when you don’t know what they are to start with, and the few you do know, you don’t fully understand? But after bubbling around in my brain for awhile, what I learned from WARA’s “Right Hook” contest, finally popped out.
After my, aha! moment: I was hooked!

Hook, that’s it, my writer’s jargon. Not Captain Hook or Hook, Line and Sinker but a writer’s hook. So, what is it you ask? I will attempt to explain, and if I’m wrong someone wiser than I will correct me thus educating us all. You ready?

Hook: Something to hold or catch your attention in a story placed in the first few pages of a book.

This also applies to cover blurbs which are designed to catch and hold the interest of potential buyers, and queries and partials which are created to catch and hold the attention of editors and publishers. All of which are extremely important to the life of a writer who wishes to eat!

It may be a sentence: She sighed with fatigue as she approached the front door when the musical strains of, Crazy, sung by Patsy Cline wafted from within, freezing her body with fear while tremors of shock and panic seized her mind and heart screaming, how had he found me again?

Or a paragraph: As Nick looked around the yard, his face registering shock and disbelief, he realized that he could not find Julie, his wife. He began to frantically run towards each small group of neighbors clustered together in the red tinged darkness of the secluded clearing. Fear lashed at him as he realized that she must still be inside. He shook off the protesting hands of his concerned neighbors and rushed back into the house. His friends waited, watching in fear for Nick as the burning maelstrom that had been his home began to collapse upon itself.

Or a theme: Historical settings such as wars, lifestyles (Amish, pioneers), hospitals (Doctors) and etc. are fertile grounds for picking a theme. Writer’s often base a series of books around a central town or family (Jillian Hart’s, The McKaslin Clan) thus ensuring that once hooked, you’ll be back for more.

So now that you have been ed-u-ma-cated you are out of excuses.
Get to writing; hook ‘em good and reel ‘em in!

What Is GMC? (Penny Rader)

Gooey Milk Chocolate? Nope.
Gorgeous Masculine Chest? Alas, no.
Goal Motivation Conflict? Yep.

GMC -- must haves for your characters.

Each of these could be a blog post or two. Maybe we'll go more in depth a bit later. For now, I'll just share a few nuggets that I pulled out of Debra Dixon's book, GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction.

Goal = what your character wants
Motivation = why your character wants it (because)
Conflict = why your character can't have it (but)

Put them in a sentence and you get something you can hang your story on: A character wants a goal because he is motivated, but he faces conflict.

Give each of your characters GMCs and have those GMCs collide.

You will need both external and internal GMCs. External means tangible, something your characters can experience through their senses. Internal means emotional.

Goals must be important and urgent. Failure will create consequences for the characters.

Motivation is your story's foundation. Urgency is as important for motivation as it is for goals.

Conflict is the reason your character can't have what he wants. It's the strength of your book.

If the characters never face hardship...
If they're never in danger...
If they never struggle...
Your book is going to be boring.

Coincidence is not motivation. Bickering is not conflict. Misunderstanding is not conflict.

Debra's book is full of great information and I highly recommend it.

Another recommended read: The Dreaded Synopsis: A Writing & Plotting Guide by Elizabeth Sinclair. She uses different terms and has a great list of Character Agenda Keywords at the end of the book.

(Putting on my WARA librarian hat -- we have both of these books in our library. WARA members can check them out by coming to my office or dropping me a line and asking me to bring them to a meeting.)

Do you have any tips about creating strong GMCs to share with us? Or an example from a favorite book or a book you've written?

The Ups and Downs of a Story Arc

Have you ever heard the term "Story Arc" and wondered what it meant? Now is your opportunity to find out, from the little bit I know. I had to research this term and, unfortunately, found very little discussion about it. Still, I enjoy learning new things and a good challenge. I also realized that I, in fact, use this method when I deal with storylines that involve more than one novel. I just didn't know my method had an actual name.

From what I learned, a Story Arc is most commonly associated with writing for media, such as television, comic books, video games, and movies. Beyond that, it is mainly used for writing dramas and, in particular, writng soap operas. Why, you ask? Because each of those are specific to involving episodic storytelling that continues on in a series of shows, comic books, games, and even movies. An example of movies would be the Star Wars series.

This isn't to say that the Story Arc can't be adapted to novel writing. The Arc structure basically encompasses the whole of a storyline: the beginning, middle, and the end. It can help guide a writer from introducing the main characters to moving him/her from one situation to another in order to affect change in their lives. Use the guideline to move those characters to the low point in their life, the place where you take away whatever life structures he/she has depended on, and then nudge the characters along until they discover a new strength within themselves.

In summary, the Story Arc is simply another structural tool a writer can use. Its purpose is to keep a larger storyline that involves a series of stories under control. By outlining your multi-story project using this method, you can keep the facts, conflicts, and character changes lined up so you don't get lost somewhere in the middle of your stories and make critical errors. Errors where you suddenly change a background fact, something important about the characters, etc.

Tag, who's it?

One contest entry I received when I was first starting out as a writer had a cryptic comment in the margin. “Overuse of tags.”

What was a tag? I had no idea. Fortunately, I had someone I could ask. A tag is the use of phrases such as “he said,” or “Tom said,” and “she said,” or “Shelly said,” to identify who is speaking in the story.

The frequent use of the word “said” in writing is one time when repeating a word frequently (echo words) is not a bad thing. Readers barely notice tags unless they are used poorly.

Not every piece of dialogue needs a tag. If only two people are in the room you can limit them to every sixth line or so, but if there are three people in the room it gets more complicated. Here is an example of overuse.

Five year old Ryan said, “I can’t tie my shoes.”
His mother said, “Yes, you can, dear.”
Ryan replied, “No, I can’t.”
His mother dropped to her knees and said, “You know how to do this. What’s wrong?”

Placing narrative before or after the dialogue will identify who is speaking and tags aren’t necessary.

Five year old Ryan folded his arms. “I can’t tie my shoes”
His mother smiled at him. “Yes, you can, dear.”
“No, I can’t”
“You know how to do this. What’s wrong?” His mother dropped to her knees in front of him.

Okay. Let’s hear from some of you how you solve the issue of too many tags.

Partial or Proposal…Which is it? And WHAT is it?

(Sharon couldn't be here on the blog today, but we'll hope she'll be back with us soon!)

The answer to the first question is either or both. But whichever it is, it’s a submission, most likely to an editor.

Some make a distinction between the two. For those yet published? It’s a partial. Published? It’s a proposal. But that doesn’t necessarily hold true. Call it what you want, you’ll probably be submitting one in the future, if you haven’t already.

A submission can be many things. A QUERY LETTER is a submission, of sorts. A SYNOPSIS (coming to Bits & Bytes soon!) is a submission, as is a synopsis with chapters.

How do you know which is the right kind of submission?
The best indicator is found in the publisher’s guidelines. Some publishers prefer you query first. Some will ask you to begin by sending a partial. We’ve discussed querying (with a query letter) here on Bits & Bytes, but it doesn’t end there. One of the outcomes of that query letter may be a request for some type of submission of the manuscript, most often a “partial”. This can mean something different, depending on the editor and the publishing house. The best way to find out, if you’re not told by the editor in her request letter, is to either ask or check the publisher’s guidelines. As a general rule, most (but not all) partials will consist of a synopsis of the story and the first three chapters. No, not the chapters you think are your best. After all, you want to HOOK (coming soon!) the editor right away, just as you hook the reader who buys the book and begins reading the first line of the first scene, first chapter. If your story begins with a prologue, include that with the first three chapters. Still, if you’re not sure what the editor wants, ask. Both you and the editor will be glad you did.

Why does an editor ask to see a synopsis and first three chapters?
A synopsis of the story will give her (or him) an overall view of the story. A well-written synopsis will cover the major TURNING POINTS, the GMC (coming soon!) of the two main characters’, and let the editor know there’s a satisfying HEA. An editor can tell from a synopsis if the story is the type s/he is looking for, whether it will sustain an entire book, and many other things, just in a few pages. What the editor can’t always tell from a synopsis is the style in which the author writes. That’s where the first three chapters come into play.

Are the first three chapters always what the editor wants to see?
Not always, especially with published authors who have been writing for several years for the same editor. Once a relationship is formed between an author and an editor, some of the questions have been answered. The editor has become familiar with the author’s style, knows s/he can sustain a full-length book and can do it within a certain time frame. Many multi-published authors submit only a synopsis and first chapter as a proposal. Still others have sold books on a synopsis only. You and your editor will know when that time comes. Until then, learn to write the best synopsis you can and polish those first three chapters until they shine! And don’t forget to finish the book!

What is the Black Moment?

In a nutshell, the Black Moment is the point in a story where all appears lost for the protagonist or where the plot explodes. In a romance, it is when the hero and heroine appear to the reader to have no hope for that Happily Ever After. Their developing relationship is doomed.

What makes a good black moment? A storyline that steadily sows the seeds for disaster, for heartbreak, for the hero and heroine to be forced to face a crisis and what seems to be insurmountable odds for happiness together. It should develop naturally from an issue that at least one of the characters has feared or felt strongly about and it should involve the conflict at the heart of the story. It should be individual to each specific character.

In a Donald Maass workshop he suggests using one of the following for creating a heart-wrenching black moment:
* Know the one thing your character would never do, then make him/her do it.
* Know the one thing your character would never sacrifice, then make him/her sacrifice it.
* Know your character's greatest fear, then make him/her face it.

Facing the black moment in his/her life makes the character stronger. It should lead to character growth through having to change in some way or make a compromise in order to save the previously failing relationship.

What makes a bad black moment? A moment in a story that really doesn't give the reader the full experience of wrenching ups and downs in the characters' lives is a poorly written black moment, a gray moment. For example, a disappointing black moment is when it involves something that could be easily discovered by asking a question or by the charactes having a simple discussion. Another is using a coincidence or misunderstanding as the cause for the black moment. And making a dark moment in the story too brief isn't satisfying to a reader either.

HEA (Happily Ever After) or USBCA (Until Something Better Comes Along)?

            Happily Ever After or HEA is the way we writers describe the moment in our stories when certainty is sure.  The promise of hope is fulfilled.  Do not laugh at or minimalize the HEA.  It is one of the defining points of humanity.  There is a bone deep need in humans to be assured that events will bring about that condition.  HEA is the goal for almost all of our endeavors.  Striving for it defines our lives.  This is why a HEA will beat a USBCA every time.

            Do you think I give it too much importance?  Follow me.

Words were made to express every aspect and thought of human existence including those we hope to have.  Villians are vanquished.  Good triumphs over evil.  The woman gets her guy.  Babys are still coming.  Spring arrives after every winter.  Such is the foundation of hope.  Without hope every life is emptier and more barren.  Using the certainty of past HEAs, we know the future has the potential to be as good or better.

Whether the writer was Edgar Rice Burroughs writing of Tarzan or Moses heading for the Promised Land, hope plays an integral part in the makeup of the human spirit.  Without hope, man wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning, conquer new horizons, or get pleasure from testing the edge of a knife against his thumb.  All of these things are essential in some way to achieving a unique HEA.  Stories express this need, and the journey of fulfillment of the need, using different styles of writing and words to accomplish it.

Let us look at other writing categories.  Mysteries.  They start with a question and end with a certainty.  Horror.  The same.  Adventure stories.  Not much of an adventure if no one lives to tell the tale.  So, again, certainty.  Someone overcame odds to live to tell about it.  A personal happily ever after.  Westerns.  The hero fights horrible odds and ends up with his heart’s desire or justice. In every popular story style, the more uncertain the outcome as the story is read and yet certain in the end, the more the reader will experience emotional validation/satisfaction when the story is completed.

An interesting thing about HEAs is that they can happen in multiples.  Just because a couple get together and have a happily ever after doesn’t mean they can’t have another one after the first baby is born and another after the second one is born or a third after the house is built.  HEAs are milestones of certainty that hope is fulfilling its role in our lives.  Our lives are richer for every HEA we experience, even if we only get to watch.

What is wonderful about Romance HEAs are that they are the big ones.  Stories of Great Loves are the ones that others are measured against.  Romantic HEAs, whether readers read romance or not, are still the ones they hold in their secret hearts.  Everyone yearns for their own Happily Ever After.  Through romances, we are able to relive the wonder of our own or confirm hope that one is there for us.

I believe it is a wonderful thing we writers of romance get to do.  Bring hope to humanity.  Does it get better than that?

Query Letter

Query. A good word for Scrabble and that troublesome “q”? Webster’s Dictionary defines query as a question or inquiry. Hence a query letter is one you write to ask (and convince) an agent or an editor to take a look at your story.

First you have to research which agents and publishers would be interested in your kind of story. This is important--sending a query on a romance to a children’s book agent or publisher not only wastes time but is unprofessional. Make certain of the spelling of the person’s name --accuracy and good impressions count. Use a current Writer’s Market or agent/publisher web sites to learn which agents and publishers accept your genre. Address your query to a specific person. Double check to avoid disreputable agents or publishers--Preditors and Editors is one site.

Homework done, you’re ready to write. Remember that this is a business letter/query. You have one single spaced page, at most one and a half pages to obtain a request for your manuscript. Here are some suggestions--there are no hard and fast rules as to how many paragraphs you need. Start with a letterhead or:

Your address (Use left alignment and a business-like font)
City, State zip


Agent or editor name
Agency or Publisher
City, State zip

Dear Ms. or as the case may be Mr. Last Name:

First Paragraph: I start this paragraph with a one sentence hook about my story. To roughly quote Moira Allen at (query information for magazine articles but much there applies to books.) “There are several hooks: The Question. Often, this is a problem/solution or informative hook posed as a question, such as: What would you do if...? The attention-grabber. The goal of this type of hook is to make the reader sit up and take notice -- hopefully long enough to read the rest of the story." Include a working title, the genre or market (such as historical romance), approximate number of words, and thatthe manuscript is completed. (Put a blank line between paragraphs)

Second Paragraph: Give a taste of your book. Think of the blurbs on the backs of books you read. Introduce hero, heroine and the protagonist. Demonstrate the flavor of the story--show you can write well. This paragraph often determines a request or a refusal.

Third paragraph: Background and Experience or Qualifications. What about you shows that you are the best person to write this story? Give education. Teaching experience, or writing experience. If weak in this area keep it brief.

Fourth paragraph: Closing paragraph. Have a sentence about the inclusion of synopsis (jargon for a different blog--check how many pages the person you are sending it to wishes to see) and sample chapters (usually the first three.) Thank the person for their time. Do not set a time for a reply--patience is the keyword. Also mention the SASE --more jargon-- Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (with correct postage for return of your material and/or a reply).

Space for your written signature
Your full name

Some reminders:
Use standard good quality size white paper. If you use a letter head keep it simple and business like--do not use company letterhead stationary.

Make certain you have checked what the person your writing finds what they ask to see in a query.

Proofread carefully; perhaps several times. Spelling and punctuation errors, typos, coffee stains etc. will only decrease your chances of success.

Email Queries
Today many publishers are accepting email queries. Most of the same rules apply as for printed queries. One major difference is that your contact information goes at the bottom of the query, not at the top in an email. Check the agent or editor website to see what they wish to see in the query, if you can send synopsis and sample chapters, and what to put in the Subject line.

Most of all remember that faith in your story, patience, and persistence and then more persistence, faith, and patience are required. It isn’t unusual to receive many rejections before finding the agent or editor who loves your work. Keep fine tuning and resending new queries. If you don’t send them you can’t ever be published.
Fellow writers, what have I forgotten? What have you found works best in query letters?

Feed Your Brain Enhance Your TP's

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you but when it comes to conjuring up maniacal plots I’ve just got to have my brain food. And if I happen to be contemplating crucial TP’s in my manuscript—bring on the big bag of M&M’s. Something about those colorful, little candies makes my brain hit warp speed. (scary, I know) In fact, it’s a requirement to have M&M’s when plotting especially when it comes to TP’s.

By the way, TP’s stand for Turning Points. Pivotal plot points positioned properly. HUH?

Say you’re writing a 400 page manuscript with 20 page chapters. Go ahead, say it. I’ll go grab the M&M’s and be right back. . . . Okay, ready? I use a really large dry erase board for this part but a poster board would work too. Mark off five columns with four rows so you end up with 20 squares in your grid. 20 chapters at 20 pages each equals 400 pages. Here, have a handful of M&M’s. I promise it will help. If you’re writing a shorter novel then divide your grid appropriately.

Number each of the boxes 1-20 going left to right and top to bottom. Down the far right side of your grid you should have boxes 5, 10, 15 and 20. (20 won’t be a TP, but the last time we told him we didn’t need him, he got his feelings hurt) When you start plotting your manuscript, those boxes will be your TP’s—except for you know who. He gets to be the happily-ever-after so I don’t know what he’s upset about.

Box 5 is approximately ¼ of the way through manuscript and will be your first TP. This scene should impact your novel in a big way. It should build on the conflict or introduce a new one. Depending on the genre you write, it could be a first kiss, a declaration, an admission or even the first time a couple makes love. Think hook, only on a much grander scale.

Box 10 is the midway point in your book and responsible for keeping your middle from sagging, because believe me when I tell you, there is nothing worse than a middle that sags. Box 10 holds the power to make or break your manuscript so, of course, Box 10 should include a cliffhanger that packs a powerful punch. Again, depending on the genre and your story, this cliffhanger should be something big enough to alter a character’s perception of someone or something.

Box 15 is the beginning of the end and also another major cliffhanger. It’s here that we, as the responsible party, have to build the intensity and sustain the romance/action/drama for the remainder of the book. From here on out you are building toward the black moment. Which, of course, is the TP of all TP’s.

If you think about it, Turning Points are like the moments right before a commercial in your favorite TV show. It’s what brings you back to your Lazy-Boy for the next segment. You just have to know what is going to happen to the characters you have fallen in love with. Turning Points in books should have the same draw. When filling out the remainder of the grid boxes, remember to add a hook ending to each chapter and build toward those Turning Points. It will maintain the level of intensity and keep your readers begging for more. Now grab some brain food, you’ve earned it.

The dreaded POV: What is it?

POV stand for Point of View. As with many things you’ll encounter in the wacky world of writing, POV can have many different meanings. There are in fact five different Points of View

Objective Point of View
In objective point of view, the writer tells what happens without stating more than can be inferred from the story's action and dialogue. The narrator never discloses anything about what the characters think or feel, remaining a detached observer. Writing an objective point of view story would be very much like watching a movie. We see what the characters are doing, but we can only infer from their actions how they are feeling.

Third Person Point of View
In this POV there is no narrator for the story. The writer lets us know exactly how the characters feel, what they see, hear, taste, touch and smell. We learn about the characters by being inside their heads. This is the most common point of view used in literature today.

First Person Point of View
In the first person point of view, the narrator of the story is generally the main character. We see the whole book and everything in it from their eyes. We can’t see what anyone else is thinking. It’s like real life. I can only assume that you are bored to tears at this point in my blog. I can’t hear you thinking about how you’d like to click over to something more fun. Like Spider Solitaire or Word Whomp. I know but please bear with me.

Omniscient Points of View
In this type of writing the story narrator knows everything about all the characters. He or she is all knowing, or omniscient and can relay what each character thinks or feels.
A narrator whose knowledge is limited to one character, either major or minor, has a limited omniscient point of view.

Blah, blah, blah. Okay now to the stuff you wanted to know. How to use POV in your writing.

Okay, Character POV.
Most romance novels today use only two character points of view. The hero’s and the heroine’s. Sometimes the writer takes us inside the head of a secondary character, but the visit is usually short. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand to be in the villain’s mind for long. Too creepy.

It’s very tempting for a new writer to want to let us know what everyone in the room is thinking. They may not even realize they are doing it. Georgette Heyer, one of my favorite authors, slips into the head of the butler, the dressmaker, even the urchin passing by on the street. It was a common way to write in her day and she does it well.
Nora Roberts does it, too, and no one can argue that she isn’t successful, but new writers beware. Most editors today only want to see through the eyes of the two main characters. Ask yourself when you are writing, who has the most to gain or lose in this scene. That’s whose point of view you should be in. That’s whose head you need to be inside.

There's a lot more to POV, how to use it, how to switch it. Other WARA members can tackle some of those issues later. Right now, I have a game of Spider Solitaire to get back to.

(Romance) Writer's Jargon

Writers, as with any other career group, have a language all their own. The jargon can be confusing to those just entering the world of writing, and it can take some time to sort through it all. Like a secret handshake, the language has become so ingrained that sometimes writers don’t think to share with newer writers. And even years after being involved with writing and other writers, there can be times when a seasoned writer says to another writer, “Stop! What does that mean? I keep hearing it and don’t know.”

There’s nothing wrong with asking. Writers recognize that theirs is a different world, with not only a different language, but a world full of emotion and uncertainty. Romance writers are ever so much more so, adding the need to balance story, conflict and, of course, that essential romance.

Step into the world of the writer’s language with us and find out what those strange acronyms and other terms are. If we don’t cover the one you’re unsure of, feel free to ask!